Beginning ice skaters learn a life lesson their first time out.
"We teach them how to fall and get back up," said instructor Kristy Shady, 17, of Edwardsville.
The first season is about getting comfortable on skates. Six skaters, ranging in age from 3 to 5, gingerly stepped onto the ice for their second of six lessons Saturday afternoon at Granite City Ice Arena.
Oops, one was down before you could say, 'Be careful.'
Instructor Kim Werths, with an assist from Miranda Price, helped the little ones bundled in coats, mittens and hats or earmuffs that sometimes slipped off.
The rink has a roof, but the sides are open. The temperature was upper 30s with a breeze. Skaters didn't seem to notice.
"Bend down and touch your toes," said Kim, then, "Good job."
"My feet hurt," one of the skaters said at the start.
"Do you need to go see Mom and Dad, or will you be OK?"
The sore-footed skater likely forgot about it. She was quite busy the next 30 minutes.
Skaters practice falling and getting back up, skating by pushing blue buckets in front of them and, later, by holding an instructor's hand. They play ice games such as gathering circle discs, which involved leaning over, maintaining balance and placing the disc atop your blue bucket.
"Gradually, we teach them to push the bucket out in front of them and take steps to it," said Kim. "Most, by the time after they finish six weeks, they can leave the bucket."
"Beginners 6 and older don't use buckets," said instructor Debi Kozak who teaches the next level. "We get them standing up from the get-go."
Kayden Barrios, 5, a kindergartner at Holy Family School in Granite City, had an audience watching.
"We decided ice skating is one of the winter sports we can keep her active in," said Grandpa Tony Mann. "Soccer ended and we have to go somewhere. Plus, this is an Olympic year. You want to get your kid interested. That's what drives kids to go to the Olympics."
Curly-haired Kayden likes the new adventure, rating skating as much fun as soccer and more fun than kindergarten.
"But falling is bad," she said. "I am learning to fall the right way."
"I like the part where we push the bucket," said Ella Werner, 4. "But my hands get cold."
"It's good," said Amelia Hoppie, 4, "but I don't like falling."
Instructor Debi Kozak, 58, of Belleville, knows how to fall the right way, but that didn't stop her from breaking an ankle six months ago.
"You don't think about the falls," said Debi. "We tell them to sit down. When I sat, I didn't expect my foot to be under me."
Debi learned to skate at age 45.
"I needed exercise," she said. "I loved it since I was 5 when I saw the Ice Capades. My parents couldn't afford lessons. (At 45), I could afford them. Now, I am a coach."
She likes the sense of freedom ice skating gives her.
Instructor Kim couldn't help but be a skater. The rink was built in 1966, the year she turned 6. She lived a block away.
Kim, a teacher since she was a teen, is a Professional Skaters Association-rated coach and an Ice Institute certified instructor and judge. She earned a bronze medal as a master division speed skater in the 2002 National Inline Sport Skating Championship in Lincoln, Neb.
Yes, she can rattle off a litany of injuries: fractured ankle, broken wrist, fractured shoulder, fractured tailbone, stitches in her eyebrow and chin.
Still, she's crazy about skating.
"I like everything, the sport, the people, the industry itselt, everything except the extreme cold when we get temperatures close to zero. I don't like it then. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't be 55 and still doing it."
Tony Mann suffered through granddaughter Kayden's falls, remembering his own.
"I still have knots on my head from when I was a kid," he said.
"She took it well. She got back up and didn't cry."
Information: Call 877-2549. A six-week skating lesson costs $45 with a park ID, $66 for non-residents. Skate rental is included. The outdoor rink's next skating lessons begin next fall. A synchronized team for ages 5 to 12 is in the works.
Kim and Debi provide a pamphlet on how to fit skates, how to lace them and what to wear.
"IIf they can stand on skates," Debi said, "we can get them going."
How do you stay warm? "Lots and lots of layers and cotton socks," said Debi. "Our feet do get cold, but we have such a great time."
Why do lessons begin at age 3? Most are in preschool. By the time they are 3 or 4, they are learning in preschool how to behave, sit and listen. "The main problem with tots is not wanting to leave Mom and Dad," said Kim.
Is there such a thing as bad ankles? "No. It's all in the fit of the skates," said Kim. "If you get good ankle support, someone with weak ankles can stand. Most of the time when your feet hurt, the skates are too big, too wide or not tightened right."
Any advice for parents considering lessons? Sign your child up for a learn-to-skate class and see if he or she likes it. "If they do, they can continue. If not, all they are out is six weeks of lessons."